Help with Best Practices Is a Phone Call Away

Feb. 12, 2013
Mobile and wireless technologies are fast becoming an important part of industry’s response to what many warn is a looming crisis of technical know-how.

Smart phones and other handheld devices play their part in solving the problem by linking workers to reservoirs of best practices “digitized” by workflow-management software.

The ability to tap into these reservoirs will be necessary because the conventional repositories holding 42 percent of corporate memory—the minds of employees—will be disappearing soon, according to the ARC Advisory Group (www.arcadvisor.com), a consultancy based in Dedham, Mass. The baby-boomers will take much of their expertise and experience with them into retirement.

Moreover, not only has the rapid evolution of technology made it difficult for workers to keep their technical skills current, but it also has shrunk the number of workers that a company needs. So, as baby-boomers begin to retire, industry will be left with a smaller, less-experienced workforce, which could eviscerate their corporate memory if nothing is done.

“Another major challenge is new and tighter regulations that create a constantly changing operating environment,” notes Kim Custeau, director of product marketing for Invensys Operations Management based in Plano, Texas (iom.invensys.com). “With so much variability in the field, decisions are not being made with clear and accurate knowledge.”

Because conventional training programs are typically not effective enough to compensate, many companies are using workflow software to capture the knowledge of their experienced operators and technicians before they retire. Then, as technology, regulations and other conditions change, they update the best practices accordingly. When coupled with mobile devices and other hardware, the resulting systems can receive the most recent data directly from the field and return the best practice to the user given those conditions.

“These are not ‘dumb’ text documents,” says Custeau. “Instead, they are auditable, ‘smart’ procedures with decision-tree logic that ensures the proper steps are followed.” By being able to access procedures on demand, workers need not waste time looking for documents sitting on a shelf somewhere. They have immediate access to make better decisions faster.

Custeau points to the role that her company’s Wonderware IntelaTrac mobile application plays in generating clean power on the island chain of Bermuda. The software helped the Bermuda Electric Light Co. Ltd. (Belco) to receive the ISO 14001:2004 certification for environmental management. Working with Wonderware Historian, IntelaTrac allows the power company not only to collect and report data, but also enforce its environmental policies in real time.

“IntelaTrac helped us with implementing ISO 14001 because the results were so transparent that we could readily produce reports for auditors [and] for external parties,” says Belco’s Denton Williams, vice president of energy supply. “We could show regulators anything that was needed.”

>> Read Automation World's complete coverage: Mobile HMIs Aid a Workforce on the Move

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